poets in small cultures and outside gaze

Here are a set of posts to the Poetics List sent by one our contributors, Dubravka Djuric, who lives in Beograd. Also responses by three other contributors to IEPI. I think Dubravka’s comments are central to our ongoing discussion here, so I have compiled them. Dubravka herself will be posting more here soon. For more about Dubravka Djuric, visit her EPC author page. – Charles Bernstein

Date: Thu, 1 Feb 2007
From: Dubravka Djuric
Subject: poets in small cultures and outside gaze

dear listmemebers,

it has been long time since i wrote something for this list. now, i would like to comment the site of green integer. surfing, i came upon it, and was really amazing to see so much poets all around the world, including the former yugoslav poets! which i find really great! i was specially interested in the poets from serbia, i am from serbia, and i was so sad to see that some right wing oriented poets are on the list... and now i think about how in small cultures such as serbia, you cannot have a second scene, because we are all 'one big family', right and left, and every poet who ever wrote experimental poetry is erased, actually could not be establish as a poet of any value, it doesnt fit into the picture of great national poetry, and what you call moderate modernism and postmodernism, or what you call(ed) mainstream poets just that kind of poetry do exist. other kind of poets cannot survive, they are out of sight, out of attention of dominant culture, and of course, they could never be in attention of outside gaze, outside attention. i find it very very sad... i dont know how are in other cultures outside usa.....

Date: Fri, 2 Feb 2007
From: mIEKAL aND


This is a fascinating comment & something that I suspected also. It
would be interesting to [have] Douglas Messerli's comments on this. I'm
also hoping you could give a few examples of these new experimental
Serbian poets & any translations that might be available online.
Certainly with the advent of the web, it must be much easier for un
(der)represented to establish a virtual presence, which is at least a
beginning to achieving a bit of recognition. Or if nothing else
propose to one of these monstrous poetry webzines like Jacket or Big
Bridge to put together a collection of the poets you think are
beneath the radar.

& for myself I would be also interested to know if there is a
historical Serbian avant garde of which we in the west know nothing...


Date: Fri, 2 Feb 2007
From: Murat Nemet-Nejat


The avant-garde in a country like Serbia, or others places, may work
differently, having other points of reference. Is the avant-garde more a
matter of spirit, rather than associated with a specific style? Is it a
style or an idea?

The virtual space gives us a chance to discuss these points without all of
us being around a coffee house table though that would be even better.



Date: Sat, 3 Feb 2007
From: Dubravka Djuric

thank you murat for this comment, when i read it, it occurred to me the
important question WHO IN ONE LOCAL CONTEXT HAS A POWER TO DEFINE WHAT IS INNOVATIVE AND EXPERIMENTAL. and as far as i remember, many critics here wrote about the poet i mentioned as original and innovative.

the other thing regarding vasko popa that occurred to me is: how one 'small'
culture represents itself for itself, and how it represents itself for other
cultures. then, who is transmitter into other culture, how he or she represents poetry and context of the poet re want to represent, and what is transmitter's poetical/political status in his or her culture, and how poets in that culture will accept the other, the work of the poet who through the translation enters their own cultural, and political and poetic context. what purpose this work will serve in that culture where it is introduced. being connected for the start with radical artistic context, popa was author who was not important at all. few years ago i was kindly invited by the fellow poet to participate in a round table on his work, and for the first time i read him, at least some major works, and what i found, that his poetry is dealing with all metanarratives of socialist former yu[yugoslavian] society... inscribing himself into the canon of great and important national poets.... and he was really important poet in introducing socialist modernism in serbia, after period of socialist realism, but that kind of poetry is not important for me. there is need to construct different canons, here too!

as a long-time translator of u.s. poetry, i started in 1984 translating black
mountain poets, first of all robert duncan and denise leverotv, and when i
discovered in 1988 language poets, i constantly translate this kind of
poetry, and i could now conceptualize it, that i fill the gap in my own
culture, the kind of work i would like to have in my culture and it serve me
to make my own poetical context.

another example. in 1986 working within theoretical/artist community for space investigation i decided to write about modern and postmodern dance. in usa and german library i found many books on isadora duncan, ruth st denis, mary wigman, etc. but at the beginning of 1990s in belgrade used bookshops my husband misko suvakovic and i found the books by maga magazinovic, who was pupil of rudolf laban, and other important dance and theater persons from the beginning of 20 century. and i havent heard of her in my own culture. recently, after i finished a huge work on usa experimental women poets, i start again reading micic, poljanski and few other poets, and understood that i have to search for pound, marinetti, kruchonik, and i have in my own culture the best examples from the same or little later period....

Date: Fri, 2 Feb 2007 11:52:32 -0500
From: Douglas Messerli

I just wanted to say that my ongoing PIP (Project for Innovative Poetry)
listing on the Green Integer site is not meant to be a tombstone to some
sort of past notion of poetic achievement, but an ongoing bibliographic
resource with vital younger poets added as they publish new and major poetic

Accordingly, I seek out any suggestions and additions, simply asking for
complete bibliographical material, a photo, and a listing, in the original
language, of the books (with publisher name, city and date). With regard to Dubrvka Djuric's statements, accordingly, the writers she enjoys and would obviously hope to promote do not necessarily need to be "erased" or ignored. Green Integer also seeks out new translations on any interesting figures in any language.

Douglas Messerli

Date: Fri, 2 Feb 2007
From: Dubravka Djuric

yes, i am happy to have one book of green integer, i admire douglas messerli's work, we met more than 10 years ago, which was so important for me, and i translated some of his poems, and i wrote about the anthologies: language poetries, and along with silliman's from american tree, it was back in 1988 the first book i managed to get in then socialist yugoslavia, and then started my interest in language poetry and poets... from his introduction in that anthology i learned lot of language poetry and poets, and the 'from other side of century' is one of the most important anthologies of us innovative poetry in my library. and i was so sad when few years ago i heard that sun and moon doesnt exist anymore, and i was happy when i got from messerli first book in my library of these beautiful green integer books...

Date: Fri, 2 Feb 2007
From: Dubravka Djuric

thanks to douglas messerli and mIEKAL end for their comments!

i will try to elaborate what i see as problematic... small cultures usually severely exclude radical poetry, and it is usual that academics and critics construct narratives of national 'radical' poetry from the very moderate modernist/postmodernist and in the worst case of antimodernist poets and their poetry. as one example i will mention the name of one of the most celebrated poets, who in last 16 years won all national prices, who i think recently enters the serbian academy of science, milosav tesic (i think that i saw his name listed). he writes the most regressive poetry in serbia today. his poetry is one of the most important in the construction of new postsocialist serbian sociaty, that is a closed society, fundamentalist and nationalistic in many ways, religious, and ethnic and for sure anti-innovative. if i apply language poetry's materialistic theory of verse, then it is that on the symbolic level the kind of poetry that poets wrote is in some relation to the dominant national project or to, on the contrary, to the oppositional political project. many poets that i find in this list were 'radical' 20 or 30 or 70 years ago, and today, i.e. after 1991, most of them become very conservative.

when i first in 1988 read and translated first texts by language poets (bernstein, silliman, hejinian, watten, etc) i said to myself, these crazy us poets connect politics and ideology with poetry, what it has to do with each other... but after 1991, as a literary critic, thanks to my translations of language poets, i realized that many, most, almost all, urban belgrade poets from 70s became in poetry oppressed with nation, religion, and the shift was obvious: their poetry in 70s and 80s was urban, individualistic, usually inheriting modernist traditions but never was too much experimental, but with postsocialism, they started being involved in (re)construction of national and religious identities, and ideology of closed society so instead of individual 'I', urban landscapes, colloquial urban language, you had 'i' which is actually 'we' (the 'i' is important if she/he belongs to the national or religious community in a fundamental way, and patriarchal 'we'). language became very archaic, they introduced traditional poetic devices, and instead of urban poetry, you could read just and only the rural ones (with rare exceptions).

the other thing is the question what is innovative in a local context. i will start with the quotation of the croatian poet and theoretician from 70s and 80s who wrote long ago, referring to slovene, croatian and serbian literatures at that time. he wrote that understanding of literature in this nations "always involved notion of a political dimension. so this is how the amalgam that identified language with national values was created, also forming a literature that served as an articulation of national self-importance. in this way, the language almost automatically become a national value, just like mythology, political victories and defeats. language could not be entrusted to someone who mutilated it (srecko kosovel), who expressed national defeatism, because readings turned on the national political issue above all else." i quoted this because the most radical avant-garde poets from the beginning of the 20s century like ljubomir micic and his brother branko ve poljanski: complicated case, serbs from croatia, who in zagreb in early 20s established avant-garde magazine zenit, then moved to belgarde -- so they are croatian and serbian avant-garde (For the magazine SEE website of belgrade national library) were never, specially in serbia established as a cultural value. according to that, in the end of 60s and during seventies, in slovenia, croatian and vojvodina (northern part of serbia) begun the radical practices, most of that formations were in some relation with conceptual art, similar international art movements, but at that time just slovenian radical poets were in slovenia established as cultural value, you all know of tomaz salamun, who was one of then. in serbia the most radical poets were even today excluded from the company of poets who are worthy of any mentioning. they would be accepted if they changed their practice start writing prose, or start writing more acceptable kind of poetry
and of course, there were poets who were in 70s established as 'radical' poets, but if i have in mind practice of language poets, their radicalism would be questioned. but there were practices that were radical as language poets at that same time. most of those poets were conceptual artists, but were and still are too radical for the dominant, as you say middlebrow, culture. and in that culture there is NO place for innovative, experimental poetry, in its 'purist' way.

i find on green integer list names of srecko kosevel (mentioned in the quotation above) slovenian avant-garde poet from 20s, died very young, and miroslav krleza (croatia) who lived long and was before first world avant-garde, and between the two world wars was representative of bourgeois high modernism, and from that time he was against avant-garde, and after second world war, he was official playwrite and among the most influential figures in socialist time. vasko popa was the most important serbian poet of socialist modernism.... these figures are today cornerstones, constitutive figures, of national of literature but are not the representatives of radical innovative poetry practices (except srecko kosovel).

in 1923 branko ve poljanski published a book panics under the sun (panika pod suncem). in his introduction poljanski wrote "bogdan popovic will go through needle’s ears before krmeza (coin: krleza who is pig) will understand me,” and his brother micic ended the forward with the words: "our fatherland was the saddest that when we had to be born in there." when i read them today, i realized that nothing changed.

but i think and i hope that it is time for us to see what is and what was experimental poetry in a small national culture ... because it is a critical method that is established in u.s.language poetry.


Anonymous said...

Dear Dubravca,

Your comments are very interesting (I'd also read them on the Poetics list).

An interview with me conducted by the Bosnian poets Pedja Kojovic and Semezdin Mehmedinovic recently came out in the Zagreb magazine Poezija, wherein I discuss Language poetry and the post-avant, the notion of the avant-garde as it relates to politics and war, the uses of satire in poetry, and other issues. The piece will also be reprinted as introduction in a sizable book collection of mine (translated by Kojovic, with prefaces by Mehmedinovic and Ammiel Alcalay) that is appearing quite soon now in Sarajevo. You mention the Language poets, and a number of these translations are satirical epigrams of the Language writers, in fact! It's all in good fun, and some of the pieces are quite over the top... But it's interesting how these poems, even though "American" in reference, have seemed to resonate with some poets in the Balkans--as well as with quite a few readers in Croatia, from what I hear.

I was wondering to what extent poets in the Balkans are currently using the epigram form as a vehicle of satire--the kind of satire aimed not only at the more obvious political sphere, but also at the foibles and hypocrisies of the sometimes self-important "avant-garde" itself (I assume your "experimental" scene can be as poignantly ridiculous as ours)? Is satire and parody of the poetic field a form of artistic activity at all? Might it be a way of making poetry more socially relevant, less esoteric, more interesting to the public?

Kent Johnson

david-baptiste chirot said...

Hello Dubravca--

You introduced a very important question--who in a local context has the power to define the "radical, innovative" work--and in turn,how this becomes represented to the world outside the local context, in what ways this representation is used to be interjectd into other contexts, by whom this is done, and for what reasons of their own--
i have often thought that language poetry would be the perfect export to represent the united states abroad as an example of america's "radical, innovative" arts in formal terms, much in the way that in the 1950's the american government and its various agencies funded and used Abstract Expressionism and certain forms of jazz to promote American "freedom of expression" in combattimg the suppressions of such in other countries, small and large--all the while practising blacklisting, segregation, Indian reservations, censorship and a thousand other suppressive actions in the united states--
the radical politics of many of the Abstract Expressionists was ignored in favor of their formal elements, which, being abtstract, are easily viable for both the walls of corporations and as a sign in other, social realist dominated societies' arts, of a freedom, ironically, from the oppression of the "politically correct"--
in the case of Jazz, American racism could be hidden behind the representation abroad that America embraced its Black musical heritage and recognized its great formal innovations in music--
the freedom of formal innovation was exported as "American"--
the lack of freedoms for millions of Americans was something like that in all dysfunctioanl families--it was "kept to ourselves"--
that kind of hypocrisy was what a lot of the American arts revolted against when radical innovations in formal ways became directly linked with a radical politics--many of the Beat writers, Free Jazz, (a revolt of Black musicans defining Jazz rather than its being defined by white critics and audiences), the Black Arts movement--these just the beginning--Feminism, American Indian Movement, Visual Poetry, GLBT movements, Punk, Hard Core, diy--grafitti, comix, zines--Hip Hop----a very long list can be made of the ways in which all manner of formal innovations became linked with political radicalisms--including the beginnings of the Environmental and ecological movements and their expressions in the works of many poets and projects by artists like Robert Smithson--
among the myriad questions posed by americans in all parts of life and work was--that of nationalism--and the ways in which this simultaneosuly identifies and suppresses differences in such ways that some dufferences become recognized as better for the purposes of the national representation than others--
as in George Orwell's Animal Farm, all animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others--
since President Reagan pronounced "a new morning in america" (one could very well call it a "new mourning in america")--nationalism has steadily been --often literally--beaten into American heads--to the point where under the current Bush it is "un-american" to criticize,to protest, to claim one's rights as an American to NOT define oneself as "american" in terms of the status quo--first and foremost--
very appropriately, the act which has instituted the opening of the doors for the smashing of many freedoms is called the Patriot Act--it is Patriotic to root out sny signs of non-Patriotism, anti-nationalism--as defined by those in power--
as you write, who has the power to define--what is american, what is radical, innovative, what is ethically and/or aesthetically "better"--(often in american discourse the ethical and aesthetic become confounded--in relation to/with power--the use of "moral suasion" for example and of "the higher moral ground"--as part of what best represents "america"--)
when you write how important it is who has the power to define what is "radical, innovative" work, i think this is a very good question--because who has defined what is here called "radical, innovative work" other than those who practise and promote it?--and what gives them this power and authority?--
especially when it is considered "us language poetry" as representing for the american "people" what is "radical, innovative"- for a society of such vast inequalities, growing every day more unequal--who decides what indeed is "radical, innovative" has to in a sense prove they are "more equal than others"--in order to assume such a centrality--
think of the former residents of New Orleans, scattered far and wide and probably never to return--or if some of them sometime somehow do, not to the city they ever knew--like the hundreds of thousands of refugees america is creating in Iraq-(-a woman who had been helped by Milwaukee churches to come here with her duaghter as refugees from the disaster--gunned down by being an "innocent bystander" during a drive-by shooting--"collateral damage" in the three interrelated wars on the american people by its government--war on the poor, war on drugs, war on terror--and that Dr. Bernstein and others have written criticizing for example "poets against the war" for their language being of the same register as Bush's--that to truly protest one does not write this way or take to the streets, but writes in a "complex, ambiguous" manner to criticize the government--this is to be the "radical, innovative" form of discourse addressed to power--this is to represent what is the best formal means of such address aesthetically and ethically--one power speaking with another--
with that in mind, one can understand how "us language poetry" and its critical methods have an appeal as an export/import into the contexts of other cultures, whether large or small--(Dr Bernstein will be going to China for a conference soon--and i think such a form of "radical, innovative" writing might be found not unacceptbale to the regime--)--that is, they do not advocate openly a questioning of the status quo, only a different way of creating power relations within the institutions concerned with poetry--
that they are "american" can then be over ridden by one of the "universalizing" themes of high modernism-and fin de siecle-ism of the 19th century---as Dr Bernstein told the Philadelphia Enquier on 29 January 2007--"What we're interested in is talking about these works as works of art, rather than extracting the the sociological or historical information from them."--that is, a local sense of what is "radical, innovative" work can be reconfigured in terms of this "universalizing" idea of what is "radical, innovative" work--at a certain level this becomes a means by which an american concept of the universal "radical, innovative" begins to be institutionalized as a centrality--in other "small" or large cultures--in a sense,another form of imperialism--
i think that a great deal of use can be made of language poetry's example in the united states by those who bring it into their various cultures--in how to establish a new form of the "radical, innovative" as a centrality amidst competing forms limited in power by their being enmeshed in local internecine "cultural wars"--
because of its being part of the american system in terms of institutions--language poetry has had the power to define itself as radical, innovative--in opposition to--what exactly?--"official verse culture" "mainstream poetry"-primarily---the types of poetry manufactured in creative writing programs, etc--it is a radical , innovative institutionally recognized and disseminated power within a system in which it has steadily become ever more powerful, ever more recognized, published, written about critically and taught as part of the canon of american postmodern poetries-
-because of an authoritative, institutional recognition, it thus has even more power paradoxically to define itself as radical, innovative work--the people who produce the work also teach it, define the types of writers invited to give readings, become visiting lecturers or eventual members of the faculty, sit on boards of arts committees and so forth--become part and party of who has access to the purse strings as it were--
when one thinks back on many long ago essays of Dr. Bernstein's he enunciated very cleary the structures of "verse culture" in the terms that he saw existing and the ways in which to set about constructing an oppostion to these in such a way that it could in time in a sense become those same institutions, make them over in a new image--with a new set of people "in charge" as it were--
to define anew the canon, the methods of composition, the accepted standards of what is to be or not "radical, innovative", who will be in charge of setting up archives, galleries, conferences, journals, web sites, translations, critical articles and studies, anthologies, the vast array of media and institutionalizations of discourse--and representation--all of them directed to promote ultimately a form of "product" as well as a "process" for its continued production and distribution via the class room, the media, translations, exhibtions, conferences, not only within the united states but abroad--
in some ways it reminds me of the ways in which the New Criticism developed from a 'radical" new form of teaching, reading, producing poetry--to becoming the accepted face of "innovation"--within the american academies of the 1950's --
New Criticism drew on a number of the same sources in Formalism that language poetry has--
and a few of its terms have begun to appear in some of Dr. Bernstein's more recent statements--words like "ambiguity" for example in relation to writing poetry against the war--
i think a very interestng study could be made of the ways in which many of the strategies one can find elucidated in the writings of Bernstein and others through time have made it possible for language poetries to construct their self-representations to others in such a way that they have been able to appear as "radical" while conforming closely to the terms of institutions in such a way as to accrue ever more power and positions-- to the point where now as you express it, they become the desired "alternative" in other contexts, othe natioanl struggles for representing what is "radical, innovative" work--
i think it would be a very instructive study as well as one in many ways quite hilarious-simply because of the ways in which language has to be used to say two things at once and both convincingly, in speaking to those in power, in order to obtain their go aheads for becoming powerful oneself--to be at once "radical, innovative" and giving assurances of not wanting to go any further than certain domains in disputing the status quo-the tactical and strategic uses of sophistry--and, in a sense, the manipulations of language in order to construct an image which masks an intention--
(which plays out in interesting ways when one takes into consideration the dogmatic insistence on opacity vs transparence, for example--and how this in term relates to appearing "radical" in one context while not appearing so in another--for example, the early essay "the conspiracy of us"--there is no collectivity or "movement" known as language poetry--no organized oppositonal faction, in a sense--very appropriate for the reagan era of union busting and being opposed to "evil empire" of the then ussr--when any sort of being tied to an image of an organized group was anathema to what was being constructed as "our" national identity as Americans--individuals--who didn't join movements--but worked in "networks"--which could fluidly merge, take over, globalize, do all sorts of miraculous capitalist feats--)--
i found it interesting that you refer to "us language poetry" and its critical methods--that identification of the poetry and methods as belonging to a nation, expressive of a national identity--i think is something that has been actually a form of recognition that has been actively sought by Dr. Bernstein and others--the identification as a National poetry--ih terms of being THE or "our" American "radical, innovative" writing--for export, via its presence, especially Dr. Bernstein's and a few others, at international conferences--throughout the world--
meanwhile, there are many other "radical, innovative" poets and poetries who are not included in the "us language" description--and so,interestingly--in strange ways,become "un-american"--
(some recent letters to me abuot my work for example--a letter from Japan it turned out the person who has been corresponding with me for a while thought i was Cuban, a woman in Brazil thought i was French or maybe Belgian and a writer from England assumed i was a Haitian who must have lived in Quebec--before taking up a residence in Milwaukee--not just from the name, but also the spirit of things in various pieces--it didn't "fit" with what their representations of "american" had conveyed to them-)
understand please that i don't mean these comments as a critique of the poetry itself or the critical methods involved--i am not "against" them in such a sense--what i am trying to express is a questioning of the ways in which one form of poetry and critical method has essayed to become, and perhaps solely is for many, THE National American "radical, innovative" poetry and critical method--at the expense of the great many differing forms of the "radical, innovative" which exist in the united states, many of them not interested at all in claiming a Nationalist form of being, of self representation--
in many cases being opposed to such a way of contructing a sense of power--especially when american nationalism is historically an imperial project--both "at home" and "abroad"--
my questioning is in what ways the "us language poetry" as THE "radical, innovative" representive of a super power nation's poetry is not, under the guise of a form of "universalizing" sets of "radical, innovative" formal claims, not a part of an imperial project?--
and by defining itself alone as THE american "radical, innovative" representative, not having an interest in the suppression or co-optation, appropriation, of other radical, innovative forms of work in order to maintain its position as it were as the status quo of what it is to be "radical, innovative"--
this is why an interesting study could be made someday of how this was carefully constructed to become what it is in the current situation--
i think that the accomplishment of this construction through time has been remarkably well engineered--
i say that with admiration, for it has been done amazingly well----in a sense it has "written the book" on how to undertake and accomplish precisely this goal--
and in a sense provides a kind of "text book example" on how to identify, define and create power in order for its continual "progress" in a rise to a form of hegemony within the institutions it has set out to become THE represntative of, the pinnacle of which is to achieve a form of "national recognition" in terms of not only perceptions and representations "at home" but abroad as well--very much--and so continue a national project on a global scale, in other words, a form of cultural imperialism--which always entails there being a silencing or overlooking of various other "radical, innovative" voices "at home" in order to preserve the National identity--as seen from abroad--and at home, by those who are in the positions of power to reaffirm this identity--
i think these are all things to think about in relation to your question about who has the power to define the radical, innovative work-- and thank you for introducing the question
(ps--ammiel alcalay has informed me that excerpts from a review i wrote of kent johnson's "Lyric Poetry After Auschwitz" will be translated into Bosnian in the introduction to the book of kent johnson's work to be published in Bosnian which i see is referred to in his comment. the review appeared in galatearesurrection3--and re just a very few of so many questions of nationalism and identity i have written in the new issue of Big Bridge)
all my best and i hope you understand these are thoughts raised by the question, not a critique of language poetry or its critical methods--and the thoughts provisional, not written in stone so to speak at all--after all, i have no plans to order a tombstone for my thoughts--
libertad en arte y escritura por todos--
onwo/ards!! david-bc

Luc Fierens said...

dear Dubravca,
when i think of Serbian poetry , i wanted to mention Miroljub Todorovic & his Signalism well connected
as visual poet with international yugoslav mail-artists
like Andrej Tisma, Dobrica Kamperelic etc..
please put these names in google a you will find some traces

Luc Fierens visual poet re-connected

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say that I hope everyone reads David Baptiste-Chirot's tour de force comment above. A tremendous amount of useful and provocative thinking there...

I had no idea, until I read the comment just now, that portions of his essay of some months back on my Lyric Poetry after Auschwitz were to be reprinted in the book coming out in Bosnia--but I am certianly thrilled about that, since it's a fabulous essay!


Murat said...

Dear Dubranka and David,

In the 1990's, in another occasion, I had written that in American poetry tradition is an illusion, that each poet creates an idiosyncratic resolution to his or her alienation from a “step-mother language,” American English. Underlying that assertion was another question, how language can be a means of innovation while, simultaneously, not turning this innovation into an institution. David, exactly the issue you are discussing. "The Peripheral space of Photography" (Green Integer, 2003) was an indirect attempt to create such a ideal mode of speech.

The problem of self definition has been a perennial issue in 20th century Turkish literature, critics (not necessarily the writers) finding themselves in a double bind (the critic Orhan Koçak has a classical essay on the subject, “Our Master, the Novice: On the Catastrophic Births of Modern Turkish Poetry”). On the one hand, if they define the literature in Western terms (ideologically left-right or stylistically symbolist or modern or post modern or post Dostoevsky -Orhan Pamuk-, etc.) the work appears “second-hand,” absorbed by the ideology of western structures. On the other hand, if they focus on the social and linguistic energies inside the society and language which produce this literature,one risks being invisible. This dilemma has been doubly acute because agglitudinal Turkish had not existed as a written literature for four centuries, until its re-emergence in the Turkish Republic in the 20th century. There was no clearly established hierarchy of literary values. Particularly Turkish poets were intensely aware they were dealing with a new language to be exploited, with no clear boundaries, forced to create their poetics as they wrote, a poetics which changed as national circumstances did.

While the Eda anthology is an attempt to present Turkish poetry to a wider audience through English, it also tries to create a conceptual framework to explain the poetry to itself.

To the extent that it is successful, the book does this by linking the idea of "eda" to the essence of Turkish as an agglutinative language. (This connection is described in detail in the essay, "The Idea of a Book," which constitutes the introduction to "Eda: an Anthology of Contemporary Turkish Poetry" Talisman Books, 2004).

This linkage achieves a double purpose. Through multiple means, essays, footnotes,poetic texts, etc., the anthology tries to define "eda" (formally, the anthology resembles Kent Johnson’s “The Miseries of Poetry”). But the agglutidunal as a concept does not exist in English.Therefore,the reader can only near an understanding of eda indirectly, partiially, as fragments (which what a translation in essence is). Because not completely definable or understood, eda, as a poetics, resists assimilation or institutionalization. It retains an autonomy. Hopefully, to paraphrase Benjamin, it hangs like a loose erotic gown on the body of English, an elusive, open ended idea to be revisited but never completely defined or mastered.

The effect of eda as an idea from the Turkish point of view is very different. It creates a framework which reveals the 20th century Turkish poetry to Turks as a totality. Since the publication of the book in 2004, many younger Turkish poets have embraced it as a key concept, for example, k. Iskender (“souljam”) calling himself the poet of eda. The word “eda” appears in traditional Turkish folk poetry since the 13th century. It is used as an adjective, “edali” (“with eda”), to refer to a woman’s total allure, her movement, her walk. In the 20th century the poet Yahya Kemal uses the word to suggest an “attitude” a poem or poet may have, “a poet with attitude.” I extend the meaning of eda beyond these uses to refer to an erotic, mystical (or animistic) cultural and linguistic quality Turkish has which is embedded in the movements of the language, its cadences, its walk (extending the original use of the word in folk poetry), calling this poetry “the poetry of motion.” It is this poetics of total movement which the younger poets are responding to, finding in the formulation a language for what they are doing. In an earlier essay, I use the phrase “godless Sufism,” pointing to the tension between the secularism imposed by Atatürk’s reforms on the society and the subversive nature of Turkish poetry. Eda becomes the code for a forbidden spiritual language. Dubranka, the tension between socialism (or nationalism) and experimental language you describe in Serbian literature in Turkey is between the Ataturk secularism (associated also with the idea of pure Turkishness) and an assimilative, culturally mongrel and pan-sexual spirituality.

I have tried to argue that experiment in language depends on a continuous tension between wholeness and fragmentation. While language can expand only through an attack on the wholeness of the other, penetrating its autonomous subjectivity, what one can bring back consists only of fragments. To the extent that a poetry understands its limitation, making the distance between itself and wholeness part of itself, it can elude institutionalizing by deconstructing as it is uttered. Then, the poet has to start the process all over again.



gherardo bortolotti said...

I would say, actually, that you can talk about innovative and radical works just in a local context. I mean that a work results innovative or radical in relation with a tradition or a canon. Things that, in turn, define a local context, no matter how wide it is.
The web itself, and I think this blog demonstrates it, is a kind of global context for local contexts. The difference, in respect to what Dubravka is talking about, is that the contexts on the web are formulated on the basis of a kind of ethic-estethic (in a word: political) community and not on a national identity (although nationality and its influences is still far from disappearing!).